Genesis 30:25-43 is the story about Jacob's flock increasing by making streaks on Laban's goats using wood branches, so that

they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. (Genesis 30:39, NIV)

This just doesn't make sense. It doesn't even come close to the Lamarck's Evolution Theory. How is this possible?

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    Jacob thought this by itself would do something, which it won't. But God made Jacob's hair-brained plan work miraculously because he was with Jacob, blessing him. Mar 26 '14 at 3:47
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    I sort of always thought it was a miracle,not something to expect to be scientifically possible. Mar 26 '14 at 11:54

It is possible that the genetic engineering techniques practiced were part useless and part real. The attempt to imprint color on the hide of sheep by seeing stripes during intercourse is folklore. However, by coincidence/destiny the majority of sheep who underwent this silly attempt may have had recessive genes that produced color in subsequent generations without any other divine influence. Also more believable is that possibly some of the stronger animals that Jacob segregated for procreation may have had recessive genes of color. The result is that with Jacobs meddling he may have artificially increased the procreation of animals with colored recessive genes, effectively increasing his wealth by his efforts as foolish as they may have been in part. His ability to perform this genetic engineering may be in part with what he subconsciously recognized in breeding history, partly shaped by folklore and substantially blessed by God.

For a more technical analysis you might be interested in this A Mendelian Interpretation of Jacob's Sheep

  • This is a really good explanation. I never considered the possibility of having a recessive gene for the color. I do believe God works miracles, but I was really hoping for a scientific explanation, since God's involvement wasn't explicitly mentioned unlike other passages. It was possible to have segregated those that possess the gene. But of course God would have blessed the event, though not directly. Thank you!
    – muffin
    Mar 26 '14 at 12:06
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    "Selective breeding" isn't really the same as "genetic engineering", as the term is used today.
    – Flimzy
    Mar 26 '14 at 16:53
  • Here is a source for the white trait being dominant and color being recessive: “when the animal carries this pattern gene, it turns off all of the color-producing cells in the hair (wool) follicles. In other words, this white pattern gene nullifies the basic color gene. This pattern is so extensive that it masks all the base color so that you cannot tell whether the base color is black or brown" Susan Mongold, Color genetics in Icelandic sheep, The Shepherd, 1997
    – EricP
    May 16 '15 at 22:34
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    Also, almond and poplar branches function as an aphrodisiac. bit.ly/1DYCFil bit.ly/1zNXlyu , which explains why Jacob put them in the water when the strong sheep were present, but not the weak, and thus Jacob's herd becomes stronger (Gen 31:1)
    – EricP
    May 16 '15 at 22:36

Atheists routinely ridicule the Bible on this one. But nowhere does the Bible say that putting striped sticks in the water physically caused the animals to have striped and spotted off-spring.

In many miracles in the Bible, God required people to go through some token action. Moses was instructed to hold his staff over the Red Sea before God parted the waters. Naaman had to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River before God would cure his leprosy. Joshua and the Israeli army had to walk in circles around Jericho and blow on trumpets before God destroyed the walls of the city. Etc. I have never heard anyone saying that they suppose that this means that taking a bath cures leprosy or that walking in circles makes buildings collapse. Rather, the principle is that God does not allow people to just sit back and sip on champagne while God performs miracles to pull their feet out of the fire. When there is something people can do to help themselves, he expects them to do it. And when there is nothing that people can do to help themselves, he still requires them to perform some token, symbolic action.

I presume that Jacob's putting the striped sticks in the water was in the same category. It did not cause the animals to be born spotted. It was just a token action that God required of Jacob before God would perform a miracle for him.


The composition of the rods as translated in the Septuagint includes the common walnut. The walnut tree is the only tree so far known to produce progesterone (Pauli et al Occurrence of progesterone and related animal steroids in two higher plants). progesterone is widely used in agriculture to induce the oestrus cycle and organise the matings of animals. It is also used to maintain pregnancy. Commercial products are available and can be given in feed or water. With the available use of progestins, Jacob can cause his sheep to begin their oestrus cycle. He would also 'face' his ewes to his rams, he could introduce his rams and remove them and reintroduce them to stimulate the ewes and add the progesterone to the water. This would be done in order to breed out of season and increase the number of lambs born. The progesterone has to be removed before mating.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer here. Can you provide a link to where the Pauli et al study is available? Any other references providing supporting information would also be helpful. See: What makes a good supported answer? Apr 9 '17 at 14:09

A simple explanation: There are many natural plant compounds that can chemically affect development. For example alkaloids that effects on the Hedgehog pathway can alter skin development. Stripping a branch of the appropriate plant and depositing it in their drinking water could work. Consider that the text states it was placed where the sheep drink.

A famous example is Cyclopia (from Wikipedia):

One highly teratogenic alkaloid toxin that can cause cyclopia is cyclopamine or 2-deoxyjervine, found in the plant Veratrum californicum (also known as corn lily or false hellebore). The mistake of ingesting Veratrum californicum while pregnant is often because hellebore, a plant with which it is easily confused, is recommended as a natural treatment for vomiting, cramps, and poor circulation, three conditions that are quite common in pregnant women. Cyclopia can occur in the womb when certain proteins are inappropriately expressed and causes the brain to stay whole instead of forming into two distinct hemispheres, which also means one optic lobe and one olfactory lobe resulting in one eye.

  • Welcome! Very interesting. Still, this answer would be stronger if you demonstrated that it reflects the teaching of some Christian group. I hope you'll take a minute to how this site is different from others, and review how your answer can be supported. Nov 20 '15 at 12:52
  • @ Nathaniel Thomas' answer is not the only one here and the other two are well received without specifics denominational references nor did the op ask for a specific denominational perspective
    – Kris
    Nov 20 '15 at 20:27

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